Sermon: You Never Know
Some years ago at a wedding I officiated at, the couple chose a poem by Marge Piercy as the reading for their ceremony. It’s titled, “Why Marry At All?” and it begins this way:
Why mar what has grown up between the cracks
And flourished, like a weed
That discovers itself to bear rugged
Spikes of magenta blossom in August,
Ironweed sturdy and bold,
A perennial that endures winters to persist?
Why register with the State?
Why enlist in the legions of the respectable?
Why risk the whole apparatus of roles
And rules, of laws and liabilities?
Why licence our bed at the foot
Like our Datsun truck: will the mileage improve?
The poem works its way through to a positive and hope-filled understanding of marriage as a good institution, but at the same time it never lets go of the understanding of real love as being like a weed that grows up through the cracks unexpected and unexpectedly wonderful.
Jesus says that’s what the kingdom of God is like in the world; it’s how he sees it coming:
It’s like a mustard seed, he says – the smallest of seeds, and a weed at that, but as it grows, that which the world sees of no worth, turns out to be just what all the world needs.
It’s like yeast – which in Jesus’ tradition was seen as unclean and unholy, but which when mixed in with good flour gives rise to new life that keeps us and others alive.
It’s like a treasure hidden in a field that you just stumble across by accident; you can’t claim it as your own, but it’s so valuable that you give up all that is yours, just to have it and not let it go.
It’s like a one-in-a-million pearl that falls into your lap and makes everything else you have seem suddenly junky and disposable, so you give and give up all you have for it.
And it’s how others see it still. The kingdom of God still comes into the world like a weed growing up through the cracks.
Rev. Thom Shuman, an interim minister in the Presbyterian Church in Ohio, puts it this way in a meditation he wrote for this week’s gospel:
the kingdom of heaven
is like a community organizer
oppression's neatly ordered regulations,
planting seeds which blossom into radical hope;
the kingdom of heaven
is like mold on a slice of bread
which can cure a child's infection;
the kingdom of heaven
is like the young family
a foreclosed house in a rough neighborhood
and turns it into a day care center.
My guess is that he mentions what he does because these are things he has seen first-hand – that even as he works in the institution of the church, keeping things going with programs and plans and projects with predictable outcomes, he knows that what really makes a difference in the life of the church and the world are the new ideas that start no bigger than a mustard seed, the only-half-thought-through project that at first seems like a waste of time at a Council meeting, the surprising opportunity that lands in our laps from out of the blue and that calls us to rethink everything we thought we were doing and investing in.
I wonder in what other ways the kingdom of heaven comes into the world like a weed growing up through the cracks, unexpectedly and unexpectedly wonderful.
What now is World Vision began 54 years ago as a few file folders, a phone and mail list of potential donors, a money bag and a receipt book in the desk drawer of one man who just wanted to help a few poor people in one country.
Marshall Memorial’s two- and three-times a year mission trips of 15-20 people at a time began with a wrong turn by a Hamilton businessman on a business trip to trip the Dominican, that took him unexpectedly into the island’s poorest ghettoes.
CityKidz began – as we now know by heart, with one skinny, slightly out-of-place young man just out of theology school, a soccer ball, and no plan other than a desire to make a difference for good in the lives of a handful of kids.
And lest we think it happens only in other places and with other people, I wonder in whose kitchen in Winona in 1967 a few people started tossing around the as-yet-undone idea of maybe organizing some kind of peach festival to celebrate the community spirit and maybe raise a little money for community activities?
Or, more recently, who would have thought that a boxful of knitted quilts and blankets, stored away for a few years in a cupboard and mostly forgotten, would be just what was needed to help complete a visiting speaker’s mission trip to Peru?
We never really know, do we?
At our best, Jesus says, our life is like a net thrown into the sea that draws in all kinds of fish – all kinds of ideas, people, experience, plans and projects. And by ourselves we can’t really sort out good from bad, useful from useless. How are we really to know? We can only pray that God and God’s angels will help us work it out – help us see in some little way
· what tiny little seed of an idea is God’s plan and God’s planting in our life
· what weedy little project is meant to become the centrepiece of our future
· what yeast is at work within us, giving rise to new life
· what surface we should scratch to find the treasure underneath
· what one-in-a-million pearl might be in our hand already, just waiting for us to give up everything else we have so we can give our whole attention to it.
Jesus says the kingdom of heaven comes into the world over and over and over again. And we pray, “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done …”